An Enigma Wrapped in Inhumanity: The Imitation Games' Algebra of Need

11/28/2014 11:11 am ET Updated Jan 28, 2015

The story of a brilliant man, Alan Turing, brought to suicide after being disgraced for being gay, the movie The Imitation Game reflects the sexual politics of a bygone era. In the midcentury, homosexuality was a disease that could be cured, and surprisingly in the US Bible belt, some believe that canard today. In this riveting if conventional movie, directed by Morten Tyldum from Graham Moore's screenplay, Benedict Cumberbatch plays Turing's stunning mental power, bungling social grace, and naievete so compellingly, his demise at age 41 supplies an added irony to the history of his work in cracking the Nazi enigma code, using a machine that would be a forebear to the modern computer. But with all of his mind-bending intelligence, he lacked the resources to survive society's ignorance.

Turing, unlike so many artistic men of his time, could not compromise. As the movie has it, a beautiful, smart woman, Joan Clarke, played with charm and her usual elan by Keira Knightley, would have been thrilled to marry him. He rescued her from a provincial life, and she might have returned the favor, given him the respectability to "pass." As Paul Bowles, revealed, many artistic couples had such marriages. He was married to Jane Bowles; as a thoroughly devoted couple they often lived in separate hotel rooms, the better to fulfill their autonomous needs. Similarly, William Burroughs hooked up with Joan Vollmer and had a son with her. In love with Allen Ginsberg, and taken with other men, Burroughs travelled in search of yage with Lewis Marker. His sexual proclivities were maddening to Joan who indulged excessively in drink and drugs, famously contributing to her demise at his hand.

On many lists for Oscar honors, The Imitation Game splendidly portrays a heroic figure whose survival in post war society was simply not an option. The film further illustrates Alan Turing's genius, in enabling programmable computers as we know them today.

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